‘Star Wars’ droids to indicate the path to NASA repair robots

NASA’s Valkyrie robot is a little ‘Star Wars’ BB-8.

(Verdeyen, Sci. Robot. 3, eaat1600 (2018))

The “Star Wars” robots R2-D2 and BB-8 are the droids that NASA is looking for — “astromechs” that can help with repair of starships on the fly, a NASA engineer robotics says.

The future of NASA robots may resemble humanoid robots like C-3PO and K-2SO of the waist, but are huge mechanical spider-like legs from the waist down, the engineer added a new piece for the journal Science Robotics.

For more than 20 years, NASA has sought the development of robot assistants for astronauts. So far, they have three droids. [R2-D2 Gets Real: ‘Star Wars’ Droids Already Exist]

First, NASA developed the Robonaut, a human torso mounted on the different lower bodies, but it was never flown into orbit. Second, they developed the much more sophisticated Robonaut 2, which made its way to the International Space Station in 2011. Third, in 2013, NASA engineers built Valkyrie, a lighter, a full-body humanoid, to explore the potential of the fact that walking on Mars and other planets surfaces.

However, in order to explore the full range of possibilities of robots in the space can offer, look no further than “Star Wars”, where droids can serve as translators, pilot ships, wars, hack enemy computers, ferry secret documents to the enemy lines, and even the serving of a drink.

“‘Star Wars’ is a common cultural touchstone — say something is just as R2-D2, and your eyes will be the light,” said W. Kris Verdeyen, a robotics engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, who wrote about ‘Star Wars’ robots March 14, in the Science of Robotics. “Now that ‘Star Wars’ is a fantasy film, they take a lot of space with the physics, they are never without gravity — but as a tool to communicate with the public what the possibilities with robots, it’s beautiful,” he told

Of most importance to the NASA “astromechs” such as R2-D2 and BB-8, who keep a spaceship running, even if it is blown apart. “It would be really nice to think of a robot crawling on the outside of the space station to repair it,” Verdeyen said.

These droids could start simple. “Even if the robot was really stupid, you can get him on the outside of the space station, and if there’s a gap, it would be just his finger in to the astronaut solutions, to give you an idea of how we can get from no ability to “Star Wars” possibilities,” Verdeyen said.

In the movies, the droids act as a robot Swiss Army knives, almost always equipped with the right tools for each situation. Although NASA would be hard pressed to mimic this aspect of astromechs, Verdeyen please note that in the tests, NASA’s droids used drills, surgical equipment and other tools.

“If we have a robot that looks and manipulating tools, such as a human, the use of instruments that already exist for the astronauts,” Verdeyen said.

The ability to use human tools is just one of the reasons why the NASA droids are more likely to resemble a humanoid robots than “Star Wars” astromechs. Another is that, well, rolling droids such as R2-D2 and BB-8, it is unlikely that the courts in real-life environment.

But the robots that NASA is developing for missions to the space can also seem on humanoid robots like C-3PO and K-2SO, either, Verdeyen added. “It makes no sense for a bipedal walking robot for zero gee,” he said. “If you look at the legs for Robonaut 2, they are large, spider-like legs, made to climb around in zero gee.”

Although the future of NASA droids not physically resemble “Star Wars” astromechs, when it comes to the brain, NASA’s robots would want for their detailed spacecraft knowledge and real-time problem-solving ability. To achieve that level of NASA is exploring what it calls “embedded intelligence”, where a robot should be accompanied by a artificial intelligence and knowledge database, similar to IBM’s Watson.

“We are picturing something like Watson on a rack in a spaceship local any robot or astronaut would need to use it,” Verdeyen said. This computer can then wirelessly control the robot or to communicate with the astronaut, he said.

Verdeyen emphasized that NASA’s droids are not coming from a long time from now in a galaxy far, far away. “Everyone thinks that robots such as we see in the movies are far away, and they are, but they are less far off than they were five or 10 years ago,” he said.

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